Q&A with Professor Farzad Safaei
Farzad Safaei is Professor of Telecommunications Engineering at the University of Wollongong and an Ambassador for Business Events Sydney. He also chaired the organising committee for one of the most successful conferences held in Sydney in recent years: the IEEE International Conference on Communications (ICC), in June 2014.
The ICC is one of the two flagship conferences run by IEEE’s Communications Society, and represents one of the largest gatherings of researchers and industry professionals within the field of ICT anywhere in the world. The 2014 conference had a great attendance, with over 1,500 delegates making the trip to the harbour city.
Three years after the event, we talked to Professor Safaei about the conference’s legacy, what he personally gained from the experience, and why he believes Sydney is such a compelling destination for business events.
How do you think hosting the conference has benefited the ICT community in Sydney, and Australia more widely?
Without a doubt, it has raised our profile with the international research community and helped to generate connections that will lead to important collaborations.
We have a very active and productive research community in Sydney, and Australia as a whole, and we saw good participation from them at the conference. We also had exhibition spaces where Australian companies showcased their wares to the rest of the world. This created greater awareness of the important, ground-breaking work being done by researchers and businesses here in Australia.
The conference also helped attendees identify where the opportunities for international collaboration exist. We had over 2,600 technical papers submitted from 72 countries, with approximately
one-third presented at the event.
This gave delegates fantastic exposure to the latest and most important research happening right now — and how it might enhance the value of their own work.
Have you seen significant progress since 2014 in any areas presented and discussed at the event?
The best example is 5G, which is an area that has gained real momentum in recent years.
We had keynotes and dedicated sessions on this area in 2014, specifically on millimetre wave technology, and these have been a real stepping-stone in terms of moving the conversation on and generating further collaboration in this vital area.
The next generation of wireless technology has been on the radar for some time, but we now see the potential of 5G technology appearing in some form as early as 2020.
ICC and other IEEE conferences play an essential part in the preliminary stages of research that need to happen before a new type of technology can be commercialised. This phase cannot happen in isolation, and conferences provide a vital opportunity for collaboration.
So conferences definitely still have a place in today’s digitally-connected world?
I don’t think we should ever look at it as one or other. It’s not a competition. Experience shows that introducing new channels increases co-operation and collaboration. So the physical and the
digital should work together to create maximum value for delegates.
For example, a collaboration started at a physical event can then be continued and built upon using digital channels. That, in turn, can generate ideas and challenges to be further explored the next time those collaborators meet up in person.
We can also use the digital space to help delegates prepare for conferences that they would otherwise be coming to cold. That will help the attendees get more out of the conference and generate more informed dialogue and debate about the key topics.
And why is Sydney such a great place to bring people together?
Sydney ticks so many boxes, and I know it was a real attraction for our delegates in 2014.
It is one of the prime pieces of real estate in the world. Not only does it have a wealth of instantly-recognisable landmarks, but it also has some of the most beautiful natural settings in the world.
Speaking from experience, it enhances the overall conference experience so much if you have a location that you want to explore before and after the conference itself. And I think it actually helps you get more out of the content itself, as you come to sessions refreshed and inspired by what you’ve seen in between them.
Sydney is also a hub of innovation with world-class facilities. It provides a really vibrant environment for the best in their field to come together and share groundbreaking ideas and research.
What did you gain from your experience chairing the organising committee for ICC?
Personally, I found being on the organising committee extremely rewarding.
These conferences rely on volunteers to get involved, outside of their day jobs, and take on different aspects of the planning and organisation. So it was very gratifying to see everyone coming together and playing an active role in making the conference such a success.
I also increased my own network and made many new connections as part of the process. And I realised I could be quite persuasive when I really put my mind to it!
Finally, what value have you seen from working with Business Events Sydney (BESydney), both to secure ICC 2014 and subsequently as an Ambassador?
BESydney provided us with essential support for ICC that was critical to Sydney securing the conference and its successful delivery.
They brought expertise, knowledge and contacts that complemented what the committee brought to the process, and it made for the perfect partnership.
More broadly, being a BESydney Ambassador gives me a chance to play a role in securing other events for Sydney and New South Wales and to continue building on Sydney’s reputation as a conference destination of choice.